Artists grace London stage
Fireworks are expected at the Emirates Stadium in London on Tuesday as five-time FIFA World Cup™ winners Brazil take on current world champions Italy, winners of the competition on four separate occasions.
Given the obvious prestige of the encounter, rival coaches Dunga and Marcello Lippi have called up their very best players, and all will be mindful of some of the highest-profile matches the two teams have contested on the global stage, not least the FIFA World Cup Finals at Mexico 1970 and USA 1994. History could also be made if the Italians emerge victorious or secure a draw, with Lippi one match away from setting a new record of 32 consecutive matches without defeat as a national team coach.
Since 16 June 1938, when the two sides first crossed paths at the semi-final stage of the 1938 FIFA World Cup France, the Auriverde and Azzurri have met a total of 12 times. As things stand, honours are entirely even, with five wins each, two draws and 19 goals scored by either team. The statistical parity can be taken even further too, with three victories and a draw for either side in friendlies and two wins and a draw in FIFA World Cup play.
Italy are relishing the occasion, with Lippi particularly motivated to open his account against the Verdeamarelos. "It's a very prestigious game," he said. "And it's also a first for me, either at club or national team level."
To bolster his side's chances, Lippi welcomes back two key figures in the form of Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, although injury has claimed Giorgio Chiellini, his new rock at the back, and tireless midfielder Gennaro Gattuso. Meanwhile, experienced forward Alessandro del Piero has once again been left out, with Lippi calling up Villarreal marksman Giuseppe Rossi instead.
Away from the game, veteran defender Paolo Maldini may be forced to wait a while after recently expressing a desire to play one last game for his country. "I have huge respect for Maldini," said Lippi. "I'm waiting for him to make an announcement on ending his career and then we'll see if it's possible to give him one last appearance."
Italian ought to be the most common language overheard in the corridors of the Emirates Stadium as Dunga has limited his squad to players plying their trade in Europe, with half of those coming from Serie A itself (two goalkeepers, three defenders, four midfielders and two strikers). The biggest surprise in Dunga's selection is Fiorentina midfielder Felipe Melo, who at 25 is starting to blossom after a difficult spell in Spanish football and will relish his first call-up.
If Brazil enjoy a worldwide reputation for quality strikers, it is interesting to note that the goalkeepers of two of Italy's top club sides, Inter and AS Roma (Julio Cesar and Cristiano Doni) are both Brazilian. Inter are of course enjoying another dominant season in Serie A, but while they boast three Canarinha internationals in their ranks (Julio Cesar, Maicon and Adriano), they have not provided Lippi's squad with a single player.
Lastly, many eyes will be on Ronaldinho as he endeavours to shine in an attacking role. The AC Milan forward is anxious to win back his starting berth but faces stiff competition from club-mates Kaka and Alexandre Pato, as well as the likes of Adriano, Julio Baptista, Robinho and injured Sevilla striker Luis Fabiano.
With so many talented performers and world champions on view, Tuesday's match has the potential to create at least as many sparks as the 3-3 draw the two teams conjured up in Lyon on 8 June 1997. "On the one hand, Italy play a slightly more physical and quicker game, while on the other Brazil's style is slower but more technical," Pato told FIFA.com. A clash of styles is exactly what full-back Maicon is expecting too: "Italy's football is very tactical, which is the complete opposite of how Brazil play."
It is a recipe that has served up some classic matches down the years, not to mention a fair sprinkling of stunning goals. The 60,000 spectators expected at the Emirates Stadium know they may well be in for a treat.